A Long Week Deserves a Long Post

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What a weekend! It was so good to stop and breathe and take a break from an intense first week here in Bogota. It many ways, it feels like I have been here forever, but on the other hand, like I still know nothing at all.

Friday was a capstone day in a very long week. Those of us from outside the country had to go to DAS, a federal office, to apply for our cedulas, or Colombian identification cards. On the way out the stairs from MCC on our way to DAS, an MCC worker mentioned that we might get bored. I don’t know if bored was quite the word that I would use. A little tedious, yes. But boring? Not quite.

To arrive at DAS, we took a city bus. I have been feeling pretty good about my Spanish lately. Although I still have a long way to go, I have been able to understand just about everything and manage to communicate. However, as soon as I sat down on the bus, all confidence in my Spanish was shattered. I sat next to a very friendly, very talkative man, who I could not understand at all. I’ve never heard anyone speak Spanish so fast in my life. From the little I could pick up, he may have seemed to think that we were a group of women soccer players. Maybe. He kept on pulling out newspapers from his briefcase to show me pictures of women soccer players and then other soccer players and then started talking something about China.

When we arrived at DAS, we all needed to get our photos taken. Like in Canada, I was expecting to go to a photo place indoors for a quick photo shoot. However, there was an ingenious street photo shop operating under an umbrella on the sidewalk. A man unrolled a blue backdrop at the bus stop at the street which we stood in front of as the lady took our pictures. They then printed and cut the photos right on the sidewalk, without anyone having to go anywhere!

While we were waiting for our photos, we filled out forms and stood in line. When we finally got to the front of the line, we realized that we had to go to the bank and pay for the identification first, then return with proof of payment. So off to the bank we trooped, filling out forms wrong, ripping them up, and finally finishing. Then off to the photocopier store, to make copies of our receipts and our passports and back to DAS.

We handed in our paperwork, and things were looking good until my name was called. I went up front were I was informed that the paperwork I had handed in documenting my blood type was not official enough. It didn’t matter that several others had the same paperwork. I would have to get another blood test. So Alejo, the Colombian Seed co-ordinator and I, walked around the corner to a medical clinic where I waited nervously and Alejo kept on making the sign of the cross and teaching me Spanish for faint, desmayo. The last time I had to give blood, I came very close to fainting. After waiting for a long time, I was glad to find out it was just a prick in my middle finger.

Finally, I was able to return to DAS and hand in all my paperwork. Then I waited for a while, was fingerprinted, had my photo taken again, watched everyone else get their passports back, waited some more, and finally got my passport back as well. We should be able to pick up our cedulas in 15 days. We’ll see what happens then!

After spending about five hours completing the DAS process, we were ready for a break. So we took a cable car up the mountain to the east of Bogota, to see the view and visit the church at the top. It was breath-taking to see the city of 9 million people spread out in front of us. Upon our return down, we walked to Cafe Florida, a 70 year old cafe in the heart of the city. There, we had hot chocolate with cheese it in, which is amazing, and tamales made with rice.

Then, finally, home, where I slept for 11 hours, exhausted from a busy week. On Saturday, some of us got together at Leonel’s house, which is just down the street, to bake bread, relax and play music. It was wonderful to just laugh and be together.

Then today, four of us, Leonel, Will, Larisa, and I, went to a Mennonite Church near MCC. The church supports a lot of displaced people and internal refugees, so it was really cool to see people stand up and share about the way they had able to find work through church members and a safe gathering place to share their experiences every Wednesday afternoon through a church program supported by MCC. Finally, after church, the four of us wandered downtown. On Sundays, many of the main roads are closed to vehicle traffic, so the streets were filled with food vendors and thousands of people walking around enjoying a traffic free afternoon. We explored a flea market and just enjoyed being outside with other ordinary people. It was also Gay Pride day, so we got to see some of the parade.

All in all, this week has been long and tiring and I’m glad it’s over and had the weekend to recover. However, I’m also grateful for the glimpses I’ve received into Bogota and the ordinary lives of people living here, those ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things. I’m also grateful for the chance to get to know the people that I am living with and their hospitality. Despite all of our different customs and languages, people are still people everywhere. We get frustrated with long line-ups. A big city is a big city. We love our families and those around us in the ways that we know how. We all need food and water to survive. Laughter can bring us together. We all have a story to share about our lives. I’m excited to see what next week will bring!

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